Few issues have sparked the much interest of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) as much as the “Situation of Human Rights of a segment of the Nicaraguan population of Miskito Origin”, as the Commission finally decided to refer to it after considering various preliminary titles.
This complex matter has figured as one of the major topics on the agenda of the last six sessions of the IACHR. On two occasions, its representatives toured extensive regions of the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, where many of the Miskitos live, investigating the events that took place there. Those representatives also interviewed Nicaraguan refugees of Miskito origin in Mocoron and other camps located in the Gracias a Dios Department of Honduras. In the course of these visits, and also as part of the Commission’s activities at headquarters in Washington, it questioned dozens of witnesses and examined hundreds of documents.
The Commission frequently discussed this matter with high-ranking officials of the Government of Nicaragua, and consistently followed a policy of responding to the denunciations and complaints of all individuals or institutions who considered themselves to be victims of violations of human rights, while also seeking the cooperation of religious, humanitarian or Indian organizations concerned with the subject. Moreover, the Commission was in contact with international organizations that have a special interest in the solution of some aspects of the issue, as was the case of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which cooperated with the Commission throughout this process.
The very nature of this topic made it difficult to examine. The dispute that began in late 1981 and early 1982 was initially limited to the acts of violence that took place in the Rio Coco area, to the forced transfer of a part of the Indian communities from their villages in that zone to the interior of the Department of Zelaya of Nicaragua, and to the flight to Honduras of another group of the traditional inhabitants of the banks of the Rio Coco. However, this controversy entailed underlying and long-standing conflicts, and in the following months it began to give rise to new issues that drew the attention of the IACHR.
This gave rise to the problem of specifying the framework of the dispute, soon followed by the problem of specifying the normative system applicable to situations that appeared to be unprecedented in international law. The problem was further compounded by difficulty in identifying an agency or organization that clearly represented the alleged victims. These issues suggest the difficulties the Commission faced in dealing with this matter. In addition to these problems, the events considered in this report took place in a zone where communication and access were seriously impaired, and which was highly militarized and offered very few impartial witnesses.
Given these impediments, the Commission made every possible effort to obtain the facts, to evaluate them correctly and in conformity with the American Convention on Human Rights, and to seek a friendly settlement of the matter based on respect for human rights.
Unfortunately, for reasons that will be set forth below, the Commission was not able to contribute to an achievement of such a friendly settlement. Given these circumstances, and in conformity with Article 50 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the Commission is mandated to write this report, setting forth the facts and its conclusions.
The Report has three parts. The first describes the origin and evolution of the dispute, with special emphasis on the role played by the IACHR in this matter.
The second examines the facts involved in the dispute and analyzes the relationship between the facts and the internationally applicable juridical norms, especially the rights guaranteed by the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Nicaragua is a party.
Finally, the third section set forth the pertinent conclusions and formulates the proposals and recommendations that the Commission believes that the Government of National Reconstruction of Nicaragua should adopt in its relations with Nicaraguan citizens of Miskito origin affected by the events detailed in this Report.
The present Report, which was approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights during its 61º Session, was transmitted to the Government of Nicaragua on November 29, 1983. Pertinent facts, which have occurred after this date, have been added to the text as footnotes.